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Flashback Friday - Cosmic Encounter - Love it or Hate It? Do you Still Play It?

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Cosmic Encounter 42nd Anniversary Edition

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Cosmic Encounter has been around since 1977, making it older than many of you reading this. A 42nd Anniversary Edition was just recenly released by Fantasy Flight Games.

 Cosmic Encounter may be the game that appears most frequently in our Top Five thread in Trash Talk. But what do you think of it?

 Do you have a favorite edition? Which expansions do you add? What do you leave out? Do you love it or hate it? Do you still play it?

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Shellie "ubarose" Rose  (She/Her)
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Plays boardgames. Drinks bourbon. Writes code.

Articles by Shellie

Shellie "ubarose" Rose
Managing Editor & Web Admin

Articles by Shellie

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Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #287166 30 Nov 2018 11:15
I love Cosmic so much. The only expansion you really need is whichever one adds the defender deck, but honestly you'll still have a stupidly replayable game without it. I played literal dozens of games with just the core and nothing else. It was a nearly nightly ritual for a while.

The Eon team were freaking wizards. Entertainment-mancers.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #287167 30 Nov 2018 11:32
I love this game, and I still believe it's the greatest board game ever made. Sadly, I only get to play it maybe twice a year. This is mainly due to the fact that the 2 people in my group who show up the most, hate the game. They are dumb and wrong.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #287168 30 Nov 2018 11:50
If I could only keep one game there's a huge chance it would be Cosmic Encounter. It represents everything I love in gaming and, above all, it just makes me happy. I don't need to analyze it, or play like hardcore strategist to have fun. I just have it, and I enjoy playing it with other people. Sharing a game with others is important to me and it makes me happy I can share this one and have fun, real fun with them and make others happy.

Hands down one of the best games ever made.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #287171 30 Nov 2018 12:13
One of the foundation stones of modern boardgame design. It's classic and one of the best reboots that FFG has ever done. I will never part with mine and I still play as often as I can. The one downside is that it actually does require a specific audience, in that people have to be OK rolling with some of the crazier plays and interactions. Some people don't like that much uncertainty and Cosmic can have a lot of it, like game length, for example. I've seen games end in less than 10 minutes and I've seen them go for over an hour. But I love it and will always play it, typically with as much chrome as possible.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #287173 30 Nov 2018 12:33
Never liked it, have played it several times with several people and it's always been a thud, even with enthusiasts in the game who were screaming at me about how much fun we were having.

None of my current groups have this in regular rotation at all.
SaMoKo's Avatar
SaMoKo replied the topic: #287174 30 Nov 2018 12:41
I just can’t imagine the hobby without this game. It’s always been there and likely always will be. Nothing better to break up the brain burn of Age of Steam, Brass, or whatever Euro of the year is popular than this.
NeonPeon's Avatar
NeonPeon replied the topic: #287175 30 Nov 2018 12:50
Yup, one of my favorite games of all time and I've been playing it since the early 90s when I bought the Mayfair edition. It took a backseat to Magic for a while when I succumbed to that craze. Then I got back into CE via the online edition that was at first a very alpha-looking Java applet on cosmicencounter.com, which eventually was revamped into a nice Flash game. (Not sure of its current state.) Finally I got the FFG edition right when it came out (2008) and it still remains a favorite. I don't play it as much as I'd like, but I don't play anything as much as I'd like. :( One of only a few games I've rated a "10" on BGG.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #287177 30 Nov 2018 13:19
I was just talking to somebody about Cosmic Encounter yesterday, during a job interview. I tried the original a couple of times and didn't like it. The concept was okay, but the rules were so loosely written that the game seemed to be intended as a random argument generator. The FFG redesign was excellent, cleanly nailing down everything by specific phases when each power could or could not be used. I don't often get it on the table, but it's always a good time. I have played 8-player games a couple of times, and it's fascinating how a game can still be fun even when not everybody gets a turn before it ends.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #287185 30 Nov 2018 15:27

NeonPeon wrote: Yup, one of my favorite games of all time and I've been playing it since the early 90s when I bought the Mayfair edition. It took a backseat to Magic for a while when I succumbed to that craze. Then I got back into CE via the online edition that was at first a very alpha-looking Java applet on cosmicencounter.com, which eventually was revamped into a nice Flash game. (Not sure of its current state.) Finally I got the FFG edition right when it came out (2008) and it still remains a favorite. I don't play it as much as I'd like, but I don't play anything as much as I'd like. :( One of only a few games I've rated a "10" on BGG.


People who like MtG tend to like Cosmic and vise versa. MtG was strongly influenced by Cosmic. Richard Garfield has said something along the lines of MtG started with an attempt to distill the essence of Cosmic into a card game.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #287188 30 Nov 2018 15:59
Ultimate shelf toad for me. I've tried it twice with too few players and it bombed bad. I keep it because it's a classic and I still think there's a world I get into it with more players and more social players.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #287190 30 Nov 2018 17:26
Some quick thoughts:

1) I didn't love the game at first.
I liked it and I had fun but I didn't feel it was special, like I do know. It took some time and some practice for it to click.

2) The game is very fragile. I didn't notice this one for a long time but it's very easy for players to "ruin the game" by overinviting allies or "playing it wrong" in some ways. This is actually something all EON games have in common but Cosmic is so much friendlier and mainstream that it doesn't seem like it would be the case.

For example, the FFG "green/yellow/red" alien guide is a god-send. I ignored it a couple times and always regretted it. New players are attracted to powers like Seeker which they won't be able to play, for example. Wait until people know how to play before introducing the more complex aliens.

3) The core of the game is not intuitive to modern gamers. I think many people who dislike the game do so because they don't understand the cardplay. As in, they understand the powers, and the negotiation and the artifacts but they don't understand how they can beat people by playing cards with numbers facedown when the opponent may have a higher number. I tend to stress the importance of hand-management but I'm not fully happy with my explanation.

4) Don't play with six. Specially not with newbies. Five is probably the best. In general, the fewer players, the slower and more strategic the game becomes while the more players, the more "raw fun" and less strategic the game is.

I just played in a table where everyone was an expert and it really blew my mind. I knew I wasn't going to win, because I was not in control. They chose to invite me sometimes, but not others. They played their cards right. They risked some, but not too much. I knew I could get them once or twice and I did, but I knew I wasn't going to make it and I didn't. Loved that feeling.
NeonPeon's Avatar
NeonPeon replied the topic: #287192 30 Nov 2018 17:42
Yeah nothing sinks the game faster than:
Offense: "I invite everyone!"
Defense: "Yeah I invite everyone, too."

Repeat for every encounter...
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #287195 30 Nov 2018 18:05
As it has been eluded to by others, the game is very reliant on what group you have. I've been pretty good at assessing what groups it will work with and which ones will fall flat. I can't play this with close family because they aren't cut-throat enough and are happy just coasting to a tie. I can't blame my wife for not wanting to attack the kids but...kinda need to attack the kids.

tl:dr - When it rocks, it really rocks. When it flops, it flops hard.
SaMoKo's Avatar
SaMoKo replied the topic: #287196 30 Nov 2018 18:11

ubarose wrote:

NeonPeon wrote: Yup, one of my favorite games of all time and I've been playing it since the early 90s when I bought the Mayfair edition. It took a backseat to Magic for a while when I succumbed to that craze. Then I got back into CE via the online edition that was at first a very alpha-looking Java applet on cosmicencounter.com, which eventually was revamped into a nice Flash game. (Not sure of its current state.) Finally I got the FFG edition right when it came out (2008) and it still remains a favorite. I don't play it as much as I'd like, but I don't play anything as much as I'd like. :( One of only a few games I've rated a "10" on BGG.


People who like MtG tend to like Cosmic and vise versa. MtG was strongly influenced by Cosmic. Richard Garfield has said something along the lines of MtG started with an attempt to distill the essence of Cosmic into a card game.


I'm a Cosmic Fan and dislike Magic. The interaction which causes chaos in Cosmic are the players and the powers, which I much prefer to Magic's card draw. I suppose Cosmic always keep the pivotal points of interest with what matters more: the players rather than the cards. The flares strike the right balance of chaos to a known deck rather than a whole stack of variables. And no flawed mana economy lol
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #287199 30 Nov 2018 19:14
If you want Cosmic Encounter to exist primarily as a strategic exercise, you should stick to the rules that Erik lays out. But as a game it is much more than that.

For me the interaction and the chaos are the most appealing aspects. The strategic elements anchor it, and they never entirely go away, but I've never been a gamer who cares most about a game's depth.

Still my favorite game. Playing it is always a good reminder that I probably have enough other games.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #287203 30 Nov 2018 19:49
I have the red aliens sorted out in a separate bag. I doubt I'll ever get any of them out, because if I did, that would mean I had a table full of Cosmic experts.

I have enough expansions to play 8 players, which I hope to do at some point. I played an 8 player game at Gen Con once with randos and 2 friends. It was super fun, and amazing to me that a game could be good with strangers.
stoic's Avatar
stoic replied the topic: #287204 30 Nov 2018 20:09
.

Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #287209 01 Dec 2018 07:39

san il defanso wrote: If you want Cosmic Encounter to exist primarily as a strategic exercise, you should stick to the rules that Erik lays out. But as a game it is much more than that.

This is true. For me the biggest appeal of Cosmic is that it's this fun, crazy game where experience matters little that also has some actual depth and skill involved. It's like my ideal party game because I can play "well" and do interesting, funs tuff without thinking "well, this is fun, but dumb".

But it's true there's far more to the game. Really, I just love seeing all the aliens and the idea of "How can I win with this weird power?" and just seeing them interact and so on. There's far more than strategy in Cosmic, but, like you say, it's what anchors it all together.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #287215 01 Dec 2018 13:09
I'm in the boat that it needs to be more fun than strategic so I strongly prefer a higher player count because with three people (until recently the usual number in my AT group) you can see people thinking a bit too hard about it, so I don't pull it out unless I have at least four players (plus I have a lot of games that do three players much better) - meaning it hasn't got out much at all in the last few years. But the group has grown to four recently so I am going to squeeze it back into the game rota again.
Greg Aleknevicus's Avatar
Greg Aleknevicus replied the topic: #301855 19 Sep 2019 20:43
I'm considering getting one (and only one) of the expansions for the FFG version of the game. My only requirement is that it be one that includes pieces for a sixth player. So, convince me which one I should buy. Thanks!
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #301857 19 Sep 2019 21:41

Greg Aleknevicus wrote: I'm considering getting one (and only one) of the expansions for the FFG version of the game. My only requirement is that it be one that includes pieces for a sixth player. So, convince me which one I should buy. Thanks!


Incursion has 20 new aliens, the Rewards deck, and adds another player.
Conflict has 20 new aliens, the Hazard deck, and adds another player.
Alliance has 20 new aliens, adds another player, and provides some rules for team play.
Storm has 25 new aliens and adds space stations (moons in the old Mayfair version.)
Dominion has 30 new aliens, most of them fan-designed, another Reward deck, and special ship markers.
Eons has 30 new aliens, the Essence deck, and Hidden Alliance rules and dials.

Based on your stated limitations, I'd go with Incursion, if you can still find it (it's from 2010.) The Reward deck changes the basic game the least and it adds another player like you want. CE fanatic that I am, I can hardly believe you want to stop at one, but whatevs.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #301859 19 Sep 2019 23:53
Yeah, Incursion is the best choice. Conflict will do in a pinch as well, though the rewards deck is more fun than the hazard deck I think.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #301862 20 Sep 2019 05:25
I once ran through all of Cosmic Encounter's expansions and manually wrote down how many aliens from each expansion I wanted and I think that shows the difference in quality of the expansions. Hence why I own some expansions and don't own others:

Both Incursion and Conflict have some of the best alien designs in the game and compliments the base game very well. I would pick them in that order because Incursion is slighty better alien-wise. The actual "expansions" aren't necessary but I would add Rewards to every non-beginner game while I wouldn't play with all other expansions.

Dominion is great and has mostly fan-designed aliens. They are all very interesting but it tends to be more complex in either play or design. Great expansion, but I don't think anyone who doesn't have the former two should get it.

I own those three expansions.

Alliances is weak. Most of the aliens are weak designs or mere variants of other, more interesting powers. It's one of those expansions I would only add a couple aliens from because every mediocre alien that gets plays is one less Loser, Virus or Filch we could be having fun with. I would pretty much get it for the (original!) Schizoid, Butler and perhaps a couple here and there.

Eons was better received but I don't like. It has the original designers on board and it strove to push the envelope. For many that's fgun, but for me it resulted in aliens that were too complex and perhaps unnecessary. While some liked them, having powers with a "hand of small power cards" is not a direction I think Cosmic should take. I might get this expansion in the future but I' not attracted.

The most interesting part of this expansion are the "alliance dials".

Storm is awful. Most aliens in the set are downright bad and many have development issues. A large amount are just worse, wordier less strategic variants of other aliens. There are no aliens I would want to add to my game and some that are complete anathema to both game design and fun. Hey, have a power that can choose to switch places with you! All you did this game is useless and now I benefit! There are powers in this expansion that more or less do nothing. Awful.

--

Talking about which aliens are good: I now store my aliens in two of the expansion boxes inside the actual box. It's an obvious yet better way to store them than the handmade organizer I had and I can fit all aliens from the expansions I mentioned plus the base game. That's about 120 aliens! More than enough, I think. I also sleeve my aliens so chances are you can fit far more than I do if you don't.

While so far I've only cut one alien (Locust), I think there's value to only keeping the best of the best. Funnily enough, I thought about cutting Observers because it was "bad" only for it to keep winning!

By the way, I've been thinking about writing a bit more about the game. I think the world would welcome an article telling people why you shouldn't just invite everyone.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #301872 20 Sep 2019 12:27
Thanks for the post, Erik, very helpful for the peanut gallery (me!) too.
Greg Aleknevicus's Avatar
Greg Aleknevicus replied the topic: #301875 20 Sep 2019 13:41
Great post Erik, thanks! (And please do write that article -- I'd love to read it.)